WIND RIVER (2017) – Taylor Sheridan’s First-Rate Thriller Satisfies on Every Level

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wind_river_movie_poster

Taylor Sheridan is one of my favorite screenwriters working today.  He wrote SICARIO, my favorite film of 2015, and he followed that up with HELL OR HIGH WATER, one of the best films of 2016.

Now comes WIND RIVER (2017), which is every bit as good as his previous two films, and this time Sheridan directs as well.

WIND RIVER (2017) takes place in Wind River, Wyoming, a beautiful expanse of land that looks like a winter paradise with its snow-covered mountains and icy rivers. But looks can be deceiving.

Hunter and tracker Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) discovers the dead body of a young woman in the snow, miles from anyone’s home or farm. Cory recognizes the young woman as Natalie (Kelsey Asbille), who used to be best friends with his own daughter, herself deceased.

FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives on the scene and quickly determines that the girl’s death is a homicide.  As she begins her investigation, she asks Cory for help,  not only with transporting her through the snowy terrain via his snowmobile, but also with tracking down the girl’s killer, a request he agrees to without hesitation.

They then spend the rest of the movie trying to find out who killed Natalie and why.

WIND RIVER is much more than just a straightforward thriller.  For starters, it takes place on a Native American reservation.  As he did with the plight of economy starved Texans in HELL OR HIGH WATER, writer Taylor Sheridan takes us inside the minds and hearts of the Native Americans on the reservation.  They are a depressed lot, feeling they have little to live for, surrounded by snow and silence.

But as Cory tells Natalie’s brother Chip (Martin Sensmeier), whose life has been pretty much one problem after another, he’s had opportunities, from jobs to the military, and instead he chose his current situation:  he chose drugs over these other things.  Cory tries to tell Chip that it’s never too late to turn things around, especially in light of what happened to his sister.

Cory is good friends with Natalie’s and Chip’s father, Martin (Gil Birmingham), and they unfortunately share a bond, in that both their daughters have died.  Martin makes it clear that he wants Cory to track down and kill whoever murdered his daughter. The two actors Renner and Birmingham share some of the better scenes in the movie.

Cory himself is haunted by his own daughter’s death.  She, too, was murdered, her body also found in the wilderness.  Cory tells Jane that if she ever has kids, she can never blink.  Never.  Because no matter how carefully you plan, it’s not enough. It’s a solemn warning, one that resonates with parents.

The film also points out that statistics are not kept on the disappearances of Native American women, and no one really knows how many Native American women have gone missing over the years.

Jeremy Renner is excellent as Cory Lambert.  He has some truly emotional scenes, both when talking about the loss of his own daughter, and also when he reaches out to his friend Martin over the loss of Martin’s daughter. Renner is also very believable as a hunter and a tracker. It’s a rock solid performance.

Likewise, Elizabeth Olsen is just as good as FBI agent Jane Banner. She’s sent to Wind River alone, as she just happened to be the closest FBI agent in the area when the call came in about the discovery of the body, and she quickly realizes she’s in over her head, but she retains her professionalism and does the best job she can do, which is actually pretty darn good, considering the circumstances.  I like Olsen a lot, and this is one of her better roles.

While she and Renner have both starred in the Marvel superhero films, Renner as Hawkeye and Olsen as Scarlett Witch, they both do much better work here and share strong onscreen chemistry together, which says something for characters who aren’t involved in a sexual or romantic relationship.  I also enjoyed Olsen’s performance here better than her roles in GODZILLA (2014), OLD BOY (2013), and the horror film SILENT HOUSE (2011).  She was good in all these films, but she’s better here.

Veteran actor Graham Greene is on hand as police chief Ben, and like Renner and Olsen, he’s solid throughout.  In fact, he may have been my favorite character in this one, and he certainly gets most of the better lines in the movie. At one point Jane asks him if they should call for back-up, and he tells her “this isn’t the land of back-up, but the land of you’re on your own.”  Ben’s a likable character, and he patiently is there every step of the way during the investigation. with Cory and Jane.

Gil Birmingham, who was excellent in a supporting role in HELL OR HIGH WATER, where he played Jeff Bridges’ Texas Ranger partner, is superb once again here in another supporting role as Natalie’s grieving father Martin.  The scene where Cory talks to Martin about how to deal with the loss of his daughter is one of the best scenes in the movie.

And Kelsey Asbille does a fine job in a key flashback as Natalie. Likewise, Martin Sensmeier is very good as Natalie’s troubled brother Chip.

The acting is superb all around.  Jon Bernthal also shows up for a key sequence, and he doesn’t disappoint.

With WIND RIVER, Taylor Sheridan demonstrates once again the he is a superior screenwriter.  He writes more than just straightforward thrillers. There are layers to his stories and themes that serve not only to educate but also to substantiate the characters’ actions and motivations.

In WIND RIVER, Cory is only too happy to assist Jane because of the unfinished business over the murder of his own daughter.  He’s still haunted by the fact that he wasn’t able to protect his daughter nor was he able to find out who killed her.  These layers establish emotions, and these emotions drive the story forward and give it much more impact.

Sheridan also writes phenomenal dialogue, period.  His characters come to life, and they’re believable, as are the situations they find themselves in.  There’s a great scene where Jane and Ben are at the coroner’s office, and the coroner informs them that he can’t list murder as the cause of death for Natalie because she died from the cold temperatures.  At first, Jane thinks the coroner is stonewalling her, but he tells her point-blank that it’s clear she’s been raped and murdered, but officially he can’t list her death as a homicide if that’s not how she died, to which Jane responds that unless he lists it as a homicide, her superiors are going to tell her to go home.  And then Ben basically pulls her aside and tells her that the coroner is a good man who’s just doing his job, and she should cut him some slack. It’s a refreshingly honest scene.

Sheridan also directed WIND RIVER, and he proves to be every bit as talented behind the camera as he is writing screenplays.  The photography is beautiful and captures the grandeur of the snowy mountains of Wyoming.  And WIND RIVER is a chilling thriller as well.

There is a sequence near the end that is every bit as suspenseful and nerve-racking as some of the nail-biting sequences in SICARIO.   WIND RIVER does not disappoint on any level.

And while this isn’t Sheridan’s directorial debut— he directed the horror movie VILE (2011)— it’s still an impressive piece of work, combined with the fact that he wrote the screenplay.  Sheridan is also an actor, and in fact the first time I saw Sheridan was on the TV show SONS OF ANARCHY where he played Deputy Hale.

WIND RIVER is Taylor Sheridan’s third straight superior screenplay, and it’s a thriller you certainly do not want to miss.

I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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OLDBOY (2013) Unbelievable

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oldboy-posterStreaming Video Review: OLDBOY (2013)
by
Michael Arruda

I missed OLDBOY (2013) when it played at theaters last year— it was gone pretty quickly— but I was able to catch up with it the other day on Netflix streaming.

OLDBOY is a remake of a 2003 Korean film of the same name, a movie I have not seen, but one that is reportedly much better than this remake by director Spike Lee. OLDBOY is a tale of mystery and revenge, and it’s one that I would have liked much more had I actually believed it.

We meet Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin), a man who’s not particularly likable— in fact, he’s downright unlikable— screwing up his business meetings and his family life, as he misses his three year-old daughter’s birthday party and screams at his ex-wife on the phone. After botching an important business deal, Joe gets himself stinking drunk, and it’s in this state that he’s kidnapped, whisked away into the night from a dark rainy street.

When he awakes, he finds himself imprisoned in a hotel room. He receives food on a tray which is passed through a small opening in the door, and of course he has access to a bathroom, but he’s held in this room for twenty years. During this time, he sees on television news reports of his ex-wife’s murder, and how he has been implicated in the crime. Over the years, since the story of the murder of his ex-wife makes for sensationalistic television, especially since the chief suspect— him—has disappeared, there are follow-up reports, and during the twenty year span he gets to see reports of his daughter’s well-being.

One day, after twenty years of imprisonment, he is released without explanation. Joe makes it his mission to find out who imprisoned him for twenty years and for what reason. He receives help from his friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli) and a young nurse Marie Sebastian (Elizabeth Olsen) with troubles of her own, and she’s attracted to Joe because she sees him as a kindred spirit. Their search leads them to some unsavory characters, a man named Chaney (Samuel L. Jackson) and another man named Adrian (Sharlto Copley) who tells Joe that he’s asking the wrong question, that the question he should be asking isn’t why he was imprisoned, but why was he released?

Not that it really matters, because the answer to both these questions is so convoluted I didn’t buy any of it.

First of all, Joe Doucett is one of the least likable protagonists I’ve seen in a movie in a while, and so I didn’t care what happened to him. That being said, what he did to deserve this fate is so minor it’s ridiculous. When it was time finally for the great revelation— the reason this all came to pass— I was like— really? Are you kidding me? That’s it?

Did I believe that a guy as strong as Joe couldn’t have broken out of that hotel room? Not once in twenty years? No. I did not believe this.

Did I believe that an organization as described in the movie— the one responsible for running the hotel— exists? No. Don’t get me wrong. In real life it very well might exist, but in this movie, it came off as so fake I thought I was watching a cheesy 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Those films were fun because Arnold was so over the top. This film is trying to be dark and serious. It doesn’t work.

Did I believe Joe could become a deadly assassin just by training all by his lonesome in his hotel room? Not really.

I’ve enjoyed Josh Brolin in such films as NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007), JONAH HEX (2010), and GANGSTER SQUAD (2013), and his performance here in OLDBOY is fine, but he’s stuck playing a character I just didn’t like, and as a result, I didn’t care what really happened to him, which made for a very long 104 minutes.

Likewise, I enjoyed Elizabeth Olsen as Nurse Marie Sebastian. I always seem to like Olsen, enjoying her performances in the otherwise awful horror movie SILENT HOUSE (2011) and most recently GODZILLA (2014). That being said, she does seem to play the same part- the victim.

Sharlto Copley is always fascinating to watch but he’s somewhat less so here as the mysterious Adrian. It’s still an interesting performance, but nowhere near as powerful as his villainous turn as Kruger in the science fiction hit ELYSIUM (2013). And Samuel L. Jackson does his wise-cracking bad ass shtick as the sketchy Chaney.

I don’t really have a problem with the direction by Spike Lee, other than the big no-no that I didn’t buy the story, but I used to really enjoy Lee’s movies, films like SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT (1986), DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) and MALCOLM X (1992). It’s been a while.

For me, the weakest part of OLDBOY was the screenplay by Mark Protosevich, based on the screenplay of the Korean movie. First off, the basic premise of the movie, the story of a man kidnapped and held against his will for twenty years only to be released without any explanation, was highly implausible.

The imprisonment scenes with Joe in the hotel room were all rather dull, and director Lee adds very little in the way of creative touches to make these mundane scenes memorable.

Things naturally pick up a bit and get more interesting once Joe is released, because then the mystery becomes the focal point of the movie: why was Joe imprisoned? As much as I didn’t like Joe as a character, I was still interested in following him on his investigation while he tried to learn what happened. By far, these scenes were the most gripping in the film but they were hardly exciting.

And then, once he starts finding answers, it doesn’t take long for the realization to set in that these answers are completely ludicrous. I just did not believe that someone would spend that much time and energy— twenty years’ worth— just to exact revenge when so many simpler options exist.

There is one final twist, and I will say, of all the plot points in the movie, this one was the most satisfying, but for me, it was too little too late.

Had this film put some effort into making the audience believe what was going on, it would have been a much more satisfying film. I didn’t believe in the forces at work here. I didn’t believe they could do what they did, and I certainly didn’t believe Joe’s “crime” was the kind of thing which would drive someone to plan out twenty years’ worth of revenge. I also didn’t like Joe as central character very much.

And for a thriller, I didn’t find OLDBOY very exciting or all that intense.

OLDBOY plays more like OLD MAN.

—END—

 

 

GODZILLA (2014) – Preview

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Godzilla 2014 posterGODZILLA (2014) – Preview
By Michael Arruda

GODZILLA (2014) opens in theaters today, Thursday, May 15.

Here’s a preview:

Let’s start with the cast.

With Bryan Cranston fresh off the extremely popular BREAKING BAD TV series, GODZILLA has at its center an actor who can easily anchor a story. If you’ve seen BREAKING BAD, you know what I’m talking about. He’s also lent fine support to many movies as well, so having him in the cast of GODZILLA is a huge plus.

GODZILLA also stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson who played Kick-Ass in the hit movie KICK-ASS (2010) and in its sequel KICK-ASS 2 (2013). He also starred in the Oliver Stone thriller SAVAGES (2012), a film that wasn’t that well received, but I liked it a lot. Taylor-Johnson was especially good in it.

Then there’s Elizabeth Olsen, who I enjoyed in the otherwise awful horror movie SILENT HOUSE (2011). The film stunk, but Olsen was good. Rounding out the cast are Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn. The movie definitely has a talented cast.

It’s directed by Gareth Edwards, who also directed MONSTERS (2010), a film I wasn’t crazy about because the titled monsters didn’t really appear in the movie all that much. That being said, it was a very stylish movie, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Edwards will do with GODZILLA.

Max Borenstein wrote the screenplay, with music by Alexandre Desplat, who’s written a ton of music scores including the scores for THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014), ARGO (2012) and THE KING’S SPEECH (2010).

I have high hopes for the special effects since there are enough people on the Visual Effects team to fill a dictionary.

So, the talent is there.

The trailers have looked great, and Godzilla in the brief times we’ve seen him in the trailers looks impressive.  GODZILLA has the potential to be one of the best films in the series.

The only thing now is for the actual movie to be released.  And that happens today.

Welcome back, Godzilla!

—Michael